Four years ago today around this time I wasn’t aware that in a few short hours I would be crying over the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9 by a young man radicalized by white nationalist rhetoric, and would have further cause to grieve as I found out that he had been a member of the ELCA — the denomination in which I’m a pastor. My heart continues to break for those martyrs.
As I’ve heard friends say in situations like this, “but God…”
But God, in the midst of this senseless violence, called for hands to be held across the Cooper River Bridge, as we in South Carolina lived out values that run deeper than the racist wounds we bear.
But God, in response to hatred, inspired in the hearts of the families of these martyrs the ability to speak words of grace and forgiveness so that we whose hearts are hard might experience the spring thaw of God’s love.
But God, in response to communities long divided, provided us leaders like those at Christ Mission and St. Paul’s, where stories of reconciliation began with family members of the perpetrator and an African American pastor who was becoming an ELCA pastor whose field work was there. This inspired us in the South Carolina Synod, in partnership with AME and other local white and black congregations to watch the movie Selma together and have real conversations about our experiences with race in the South in a way that values shared experience and relationship.
But God, in the sorrow of death, declares to us the truth of the resurrection as we continue to work toward racial reconciliation together as a synod at our Synod Council meetings, where we talk about what we’ve done to further the cause of racial reconciliation in our congregations and neighborhoods. As we deepened our commitment to these ministries of racial reconciliation in many kinds of communities, we also are able to see this new life in ecumenical relationships with our Muslim neighbors and our Jewish neighbors, knowing that God alone is God and that God loves all of creation as we follow the command to learn to love as God loves.
But God, knowing how fragile these blossoms of hope can be in a world that’s so determined to trample their beauty, continues to inspire us with visions of grace and hope every day, giving us the courage to stand in the truth of our shared humanity.
Four years later, I still feel tears well up when I think of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who I knew only a little, but whose rich voice I will never forget; and four years later, I see that this was a defining moment in my life and ministry because it’s a moment that caused me to understand that I am not on the sidelines, but am called to speak the truth of God’s love and reconciliation in a way that cuts deeper into our culture, our political life, our families, and our congregations than I’d ever taken the time to consider.
I haven’t used this blog a lot in the last year, but four years ago these nine saints of God were the inspiration of Love Sees Color, a place and a concept with which I continue to wrestle because God is love, and God is not color blind. God sees color because it’s a deep part of our identity as people and as a People. To discount the experience of someone’s color, orientation, identity, faith, or other aspects of who they are is to discount a significant part of who it is that person is. God sees, and loves, our whole person; not just the parts that happen to be appealing at the moment.
Love Sees Color is a continuing tribute and reminder — chiefly to myself — about what I’m called to be about in relationship to the people around me. It’s a small personal act of commemoration of this moment four years ago when the martyrdom of these Nine people interrupted our lives, and caused a lot of us to take a new look at what was inside of us and know that there was more to do than what we were doing; and there still is.
What does God see in you with love that needs death and resurrection? What must die in you so that the promise of new life might yet live?
There are so many things in this world that our fear, complacency, and sinful pride tell us can’t change; but God…